Sydney Rare Book Week (25 to 29 October)
The Garden Palace was situated just south of the present Conservatorium of Music (in the southwestern end of the Royal Botanic Gardens) and was built for the Sydney International Exhibition which opened on 17 September 1879. It was designed by James Barnet and constructed in just eight months.
Documents in the gallery are from record series NRS 906 Colonial Secretary: Special Bundles – 1879-82 Garden Palace (applications for space in, report of the Colonial Architect on the fire, newspaper reports of the inquiry into the fire, re records lost in the fire, etc [1/2527.2].
The design was cruciform with nave and transepts with a central dome. Under the central dome stood a bronze statue of Queen Victoria. Built of iron, glass and wood with brick foundations, it was said to have cost £192,000  at the time of the opening.
The ground floor covered 5 1/8 acres to which, when the areas of the basement, galleries and tower floors are added, make a total area of 8 1/3 acres.
The letter below is a request for the delivery of marble, bronze and imitation bronze statues (purchased at the Melbourne Exhibition) to be positioned and alternated by flowering shrubs. Included is the schedule of works in marble and bronze.
Letter from the Registrar General requesting a space in the Garden Palace for the Census Office, 15 March 1881 (81/1841)
81/1841 Registrar General
15 Mar14 March 1881
For Space in the
Garden Palace for Census
I have the honour
to request that the Hon:
the Colonial Secretary be
invited to approve of
certain space in the Garden
Palace – as agreed to by
myself and one of the
Colonial Architect’s Officials –
being appropriated for the
use of the Compiler and
his staff of Tabulators
of the forthcoming Census,
and that the same may
be fitted up and furnished
with as little delay as
I have the honour to be
Your Most Ob Sert
[SIGNATURE] EG Ward
After the exhibition closed on 20 April 1880 it was used as an auditorium and gallery and to house the first mining and technological museum . It also provided office space for a number of government departments, and the basement was used to house official records (such as the 1881 Census). These were lost in the fire.
Fire broke out at about 5:40am on 22 September 1882 totally consuming the building in about 40 minutes.
6 10 82
My dear Walker
I send you some
papers in reference to the
Garden Palace. Sir
John had them in connection
with a recent debate in
the House. I think
they properly belong to
the Col Secretarys Dept
Critchett Walker Esquire
The Colonial Architect to the Principal Under Secretary reporting destruction of the Garden Palace by Fire
82/6815 Department of Public Works
25 Sept Colonial Architects Office
Sydney 23rd September 1882
It is my painful duty
to report that on yesterday
morning at about twenty
minutes to six oclock, a
fire broke out in the Garden
Palace, resulting in the
total destruction of that
building and its contents
the fire spreading with such
rapidity that in forty minute,
from its commencement nothing
remained but a mass of
2. In reporting this calamitous
event, I do myself the honor
to give the particulars of the
occurrence as furnished by F.
Kirchen, the night watch man
and J. Mcknight the caretaker
to my officer, Mr Simpson
employed in attending to
works required in and about
Kirchen the night watchman
stated that he went on duty
the previous evening at 5.45
and remained on duty the
whole of the night, during which
time he was visited three times
by Police Constables McVane and
Day – the last visit being at
5.15am, the constables named
were in the building as far
as the fountain – they remained
two or three minutes, and then
walked towards the West entrance
and left about 5.30am – the
constables had only left him
two or three minutes, when he
had to let Mcknight the caretaker
in at the gates – this was about
25 minutes to 6 oclock – they both
went towards the western Entrance
and while doing so, observed smoke
issuing from the building – they
then ran towards the fire cocks
in the west transept, connected
the hose and applied the
water to where the smoke was
coming up the well hole of the
fountain in dense masses – they
as well connected a second
length of hose a(nd) turned to get
down the staircase of the
dome, but were driven back,
and had to abandon the hose
and branch director, the fire
was so great – they then ran
to the Telephone, and at the same
time commenced ringing the
large Bell at the west entrance
by this time they were driven
out of the building, and nothing
could save it – Kirchen also
states that he was in the
basement four times during
the night, the last time
about a quarter to five oclock
and returned from the basement
by the north tower staircase
without noticing any smell of
fire, or anything to cause
alarm – he then went along
the north nave, and west
transept, to the west door to
let in the two constables, and
did not detect anything to
excite his curiosity during the
night, he added that assistance
came in about a quarter of
an hour from the time the
fire was first noticed, but
assistance was of no avail
The particulars given by
Mcknight the Caretaker respecting
relieving the night watchman
when the fire was first noticed
and what was done by both
are similar to those given by
Kirchen the night watchman
I may state that I was
at the scene of the fire before
seven oclock, but the building
was at that time in ruins.
All information that can
be obtained as to the origin
of the fire will no doubt be
elicited at the enquiry
that will be made by the
I have the honor to be
Your Obedient Servant
Report from various branches in the Lands Office as to whether records can be reproduced or specimens recovered from the remains of the fire etc
Occupation of Lands Branch
Temporary Offices secured in Gresham St.
Fresh Registers have been opened & with the help of the records
relating to Runs in other Departments and the assistance which
will be afforded by Lessees and their agents as well as by the
appraisers it is believed the principal entries can be
reproduced. The Drafting Staff of the Branch is employed
in making tracings from copies of surveys of Run boundaries
lodged in the Surveyor General’s Office, the whole force of the
staff is engaged upon the work of re-establishing the records
Geological Survey Branch
The Geological Surveyor and his staff are engaged in
the reception and arrangement of minerals for the
Australian Exhibition, and for the formation of a new
collection for the Mining Museum towards which
several valuable contributions have already been secured.
It is hoped many valuable specimens will be saved from
the debris of the Garden Palace.
Diamond Drill Branch
From a survey of the site lately occupied by this
Branch it is thought many of the Drill connections
stored in the Garden Palace will be recovered in a state
fit for use.
It is thought that sufficient information can be
obtained from other Departments and from the Forest
Rangers to re-establish the records of this
Branch and every exertion is being made
in that direction.
All the Branches except the occupation
Branch are temporarily accommodated
in the old Land Office.
82/1325 Department of Public Works
Sydney 25th Septr 1882
Subject:- Forwarding copy of the Engineer-
in-charge of Trial Surveys’
Report on destruction of
Railway Plan, etc, by fire
at the Garden Palace, 22nd inst.
I have the honour to
forward for the information
of the Minister for Public
Works a copy of Mr Herbert
Palmer’s report relative to
the destruction by fire of
Railway Plans, Sections, etc,
etc, at the Garden Palace
on the 22nd instant.
September 22, 1882
The Engineer-in-Chief for railways
I have the honour to report that
the following Plans & Sections, and
Field Books, and all other documents
(as far as I can recollect) connected
with the various extensions of the
Railway, have been destroyed thought
the burning of the Garden Palace.
All Working Plans, Sections,
Filed, and Level Books, Proclaimed
Plans as far as plotted, Cross
Sections, and all other data con-
nected with the final surveys
of the following Extensions:
Homebush to Waratah
Orange to near Parkes
Cootamundra to Gundagai
Blaney to Carcoar, & towards Cooma
Bungendore towards Cooma
From 24th Mile on Illawarra
Railway towards Kiama
Young towards Cowra.
Also, the whole of the Plans and
Sections, and Field Books, etc, of all
the Trial (?) Surveys that have been
made since I took charge of the
Trial Survey branch in 1874.
The Working Plans and
Sections of the Narrandera and
Jerilderie Extension were in the
Public Works Offices, and have
consequently been saved, and
there are Lithographs of the
Working Plans and Sections of
the following Contracts
Glen Innes to Tenterfield
Goulburn to Bungendore
Murrumburrah to Young
Macdonaldtown to 24th Mile (Illawarra line)
The proclaimed Plans of the list above,
with the exception of the Murrumburrah
and Young Extension, have been de-
stroyed but copies of the Glen Innes
and Tenterfield, Murrumburrah and
Young, and Illawarra line, have been
deposited in the various District Police
The List attached shews the
different Plans, etc, which are usually
kept in your office, but which at the
time of the fire were in use in my
office, and were destroyed.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,
(Signed) Herbert Palmer
[FOLLOWS A LIST PLANS AND SECTIONS WHICH WERE AT THE GARDEN PALACE – NOT TRANSCRIBED]
Wednesday, 2nd September, 1882
[TYPE WRITTEN QUESTIONS]
6. Mr. William Forster to ask The Colonial Secretary, –
(1.) Do the Government intend, and if so how soon, to lay before Parliament an estimate of the probable loss and damage of public property caused by the burning of the Exhibition Buildings?
(2.) Can they state in round numbers, or approximately, how many pastoral runs, leases, or holdings will have, in consequence of the fire, to be to any considerable extent or entirely re-surveyed or re-adjusted?
(3.) In how many cases will any considerable delay in the construction or commencement of Rail- way Lines be caused thereby?
(4.) What time, in such cases, is likely to elapse before the several plans, sections, and other necessary preliminaries will be equally available, as before the fire?
(5.) In how many cases have such plans, sections, and other records been so destroyed as to render it necessary to have all the work done over again?
(6.) In particular, how will the Railway between Gundagai and Cootamundra be affected thereby, or will the Government still be able to fulfil their promise of inviting tenders for this Line on certain day?
(7.) Is it a fact that the Government have been frequently requested by officers of the several Departments, or any other persons, to remove public records or other valuable public property from the Exhibition Buildings, or to secure such records or property by safes or other expedients?
(8.) In how many and what particular instances have such requests been made and not attended to?
(9.) Can the Government state approximately the total amount of loss or damage done?
[END OF TYPE WRITTEN QUESTIONS]
(3) Some delay will occur in the construction of the lines from Homebush to Waratah, Orange to near Forbes, Cootamundra to Gundagai, Bungendore to Cooma, Young to Balyney, and from 24 Miles
– on the Illawarra Line to Kiama.
(4) Probably from six to eigth months
(5) In no case will it be necessary to
have all the work done over again.
Nearly all the lines are permanently
staked, and in the case of the line
from Homebush to Waratah (93 miles
in length) the Working Plans and
Sections of 63 miles only have been
(6) Tenders for the construction
of the line from Cootamundra
to Gundagai cannot be in-
vited on the date promised,
as a new Working Plan and
Section will have to be perpared.
(7) Only on one occasion, as far
as the Railway Survey branch
Vide M.P. 82/1246 with
Under Secretary of Works.
Approximate Estimate of Loss Occasioned by the burning of the Technological Museum, 1882 is almost £10,915.
Had it survived Sydney would have been very different, and so the Garden Palace may be seen as an aspect of Sydney as it might have been.
 The Illustrated Sydney News, October 1882
 The Garden Palace, entry in the Australian Encyclopaedia (3rd Edition) Vol. 3 pp. 134-5